Chapter Seventy-Six

"When you feel all alone, and a loyal friend is hard to find
You're caught in a one way street with the monsters in your head
When hopes and dreams are far away
And you feel you can't face the day

Let me be the one you call
If you jump I'll break your fall
Lift you up and fly away with you into the night
If you need to fall apart
I can mend a broken heart
If you need to crash then crash and burn
You're not alone"
'Crash and Burn', Savage Garden

"You look like you're in a good mood," Draco said as he put on his outer robe. It was night and he was due to meet Snape for his first centring session. But just as he was leaving, Theo skipped in and jumped onto his bed, whistling a merry tune.

"Yup," he grinned.

"Sickle for your thoughts?"

"Someone up there might actually not hate me," Theo replied, lying on his back and reaching his arms behind to cradle his head as he stared up at the canopy of his bed. "Guess who's doing commentary for tomorrow's Quidditch match?"

Draco thought for a moment before a slow grin stretched across his face and he tugged on his left boot. "They actually got Lovegood to do it?"

"Those sorry sods tomorrow have no idea what they're in for. I've never been so anxious to watch idiots throw balls at each other before in my life!"

"Sorry I'll be missing it then," Draco said, pulling on his other boot.

Theo sat up, "Huh? Why?"

Draco shrugged, "I've been neglecting the vanishing cabinet actually. With everyone at the match I was thinking of taking Crabbe and Goyle to keep watch and do some work on it. And before you ask, no, you can't come instead. And before you question why, it's because you'd point blank refuse to polyjuice as a girl, so I can't have you standing outside the Room of Requirement. I mean, hello, you're my best mate; if you stand guard then you might as well carry a sign with you saying 'Draco Malfoy is in this room doing suspicious things; nothing to see here, move along'."

"I get your point," Theo said, sitting back. "Be careful then, I think Potter thinks you're up to something."

"Potter always thinks I'm up to something," Draco shrugged. He went to the door.

But just before he opened it, he paused. "Theo."

"Hm?"

"Do you think Hermione's ok?"

Theo opened one eye. "How would I know the mental status of your girlfriend?"

"I dunno…you're observant."

Theo was quiet, then, "Do you think she's not ok?"

"Dunno," Draco shrugged. "She isn't acting differently but…it's just a feeling, I guess. I know her, and something doesn't feel right."

"Maybe she's worried about you with this fusing?"

"Maybe," Draco nodded. "Do you reckon I should ask her about it, or just wait for her to tell me?"

"Hm," Theo rolled onto his belly and leaned his chin in his hands. "Give her a few days. Granger won't appreciate you asking a bunch of intrusive questions, not with everything that's going on. But if she doesn't say anything after a while, pin her down and make her tell you. Secrets aren't good for the two of you."

"Thanks, Theo," Draco smiled, walking out of the door.

Theo watched the door for a moment more before muttering quietly, "No problem."

He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. But after a few minutes of this, the silence in the room slowly became more and more suffocating. Unwanted thoughts found space to wriggle into the forefront of his mind, thoughts he just desperately wanted to put away for a bit. Just a little bit.

'Please,' he begged any entity that may be listening, 'just for a little while, can't I just be at peace for a little while? Can't I forget it all for a bit?' He wanted to concentrate on the elation he'd felt realising Luna was commentating, the happiness that his friend might have some hope at getting his lie back, the satisfaction of passing his Transfiguration quiz.

Instead all he could think about was the sinking, choking, engulfing knowledge that the deadline to his task was slowly approaching. Theo had to make a choice; one he didn't know how to make.

He was drowning, and worst of all, he had no idea how to tell anyone without losing everything.

Eventually, Theo decided the room was too quiet and grabbing his bag, decided to go to the library. In a daze, he left the dungeons and began to make his way up one of the staircases. But as he climbed; he flirted with the idea of seeing Jonah instead.

'Do I have to go to the library? What would I even do there?' He had divination homework, but what would he need the library for that? Maybe he could Owl Jonah and they could hang out?

However, Theo quickly disregarding the idea, knowing the blond was probably on a date anyway since he hadn't seen Pansy anywhere in the commonroom on his way out. Jonah so rarely found opportunities to see Pansy these days, Theo decided not to get in the way.

Sometimes being the only single friend sucked.

Suddenly, the staircase he was standing on started moving. Theo stumbled, reaching for the banister and held on tight as the stairs turned several spaces to the left and began rearranging itself. Theo held his breath, feeling nauseated. He always ended up feeling travel sick whenever the staircases moved; it was why he hated going anywhere above floor level.

Finally it jutted to a halt and he quickly scampered up and off the moving terror before it changed its mind.

Hunching over only slightly, Theo took a moment to breathe in deeply and dispel the dizzying, sick feeling that was trying to grip his stomach and head. Once he had regained his composure he stood tall and realised the staircase had brought him to the seventh floor.

Right in front of the wall where the Room of Requirement materialised.

For several moments Theo stood there, staring at the wall.

He couldn't remember the last time he'd used it for himself, not really. He knew on principle he was the first one in their friendship group to use it: that was how he'd been able to tell Draco about it in third year and use it for their Dementor training. But that had been so long ago and since becoming friends with Draco, Theo hadn't seen any point in using it on his own anymore.

In the past Theo told Draco that he'd used the room for doing all-nighters, but that had been a half-lie. Theo might have discovered the room for that reason in first year; however it hadn't been what he used it for.

The truth was, the room had been his oasis. In his First and Second year Theo didn't slip into Slytherin as well as the rest of his peers. He'd been too weird, too strange, and too antisocial, that he scared his fellow year mates. And though his father might have been a monster, as a home-schooled pureblood, he had still been the only person Theo knew how to interact with. Everyone else confused him. His dormitory felt alien to him.

So feeling alone, miserable and yet being too stubborn to admit it, Theo withdrew into himself. Around that time he discovered the room of requirement and began spending time there to escape and be by himself so he could feel alone without being lonely.

That all changed when an idiot who until that moment, Theo had always written off as a pureblood numbskull destined to be a monotonous clone of his father and a self-important prat, pushed him out of the way and took a Hippogriff slash for him.

In the days that followed their meaning, Theo slowly forgot how it felt to be lonely.

Draco would never truly understand what his friendship meant to Theo, what he had saved him from.

But now, friendship wasn't enough. Theo could feel the darkness that had threatened him back when he was a child closing in on him again; and in his desperation to protect his friend from it, he couldn't tell a soul about it. Not even to save himself.

Staring at the wall, with its smooth polished stones, Theo couldn't help but remember times he'd spend as a eleven year old standing in this very spot and wishing for things he'd never ask a person for: and getting them.

"I just want somewhere to clear my head," he couldn't help but say now, almost more as a reflex than a conscious thought. Then, even quieter than a muffled heartbeat, he whispered, "I want…I want to run away."

As soon as he said this, Theo shut his eyes, his heart skipping a beat. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes.

Nothing. The room had not appeared. His heart dropped and returned to its blank state to hide his disappointment.

Then he sighed haggardly "Of course. How could I think it even be so easy, I can never catch a break." Even if he did manage to run away from his problems, it wouldn't change anything. Someone had to make the choice.

Tucking his hands into his pockets he began to walk away.

So what to do now? He defiantly wasn't in the mood for studying after this.

Theo supposed he could always find Luna, but he knew that if he did, then he'd be once again tempted to convince himself what he felt for her was more than friendship. And it still bugged him that he hadn't been able to feel anything that time he kissed her.

What was even wrong with him? He was a healthy, virile young man and she was a...cute-in-her-own-way Witch. He should've felt something.

And he did feel something physical, but…somehow that wasn't enough.

Especially since he knew she didn't like him that way. Theo supposed if he were persistent enough, he could change her mind, but somehow the idea was unappealing. 'I don't want to force her to like me as some kind of…second choice,' he thought glumly. Theo wanted more. He wanted what his best friends had. Someone who knew him, someone who accepted him, someone who…

'I want someone to make me feel better again.'

All of a sudden, there was a sound begin Theo. He turned to find the previously blank wall rippling into a large, ornate door. Theo blinked, a little shocked.

It was made of wood and had a pattern outline. It looked unlike any of the doors Theo had ever seen the room produce before; if anything, it reminded him of the time Draco had accidently summoned the Hall of Mirrors through it.

He walked back down the hall and halted before the door.

'Do I go in?' he wondered. He hovered his hand above the knob. It hummed it magic.

At this, Theo took a step back, shifting his bag strap on his shoulder to hide the way they had suddenly tensed. This whole thing felt dangerous, he should walk away. That was the way he lived, preferring to be practical and goal driven.

He had a bevy of other things he should be doing, there wasn't time to waste getting involved with the trouble he was sure lay in this unidentified room. He already had so many things to worry about.

But at the same time…it had changed for him.

It hadn't changed when he asked to run away…but somewhere in the rambling daydream after, he must have thought something that had encouraged the Room to change for him. Theo couldn't even remember what it could have been.

What was on the other side of the door?

Curiosity held Theo's feet to the ground like glue, even while suspicion and paranoia forced his arms to remain by his side and not touch the door.

Eventually, curiosity won out and he turned the golden doorknob to see…nothing special.

Just a perfectly normal room met his raised expectations. Two of the walls opposite the door were draped in tapestries; one in Slytherin colours and one in black and yellow. There were some sofa, small library and there seemed to be an empty chalk board on the wall directly opposite the door.

Theo strolled inside, hands in his pockets. His face retained its usual uninterested expression as he surveyed the empty room.

"Of course," he repeated tonelessly. This was what he got for getting excited over nothing. Like a room could help him when even Albus Dumbledore couldn't.

Ah well, still no sense wasting a perfectly good room. Time to be alone without feeling lonely.

Theo slung his school bag down and slumped into one of the sofas, it was wonderfully comfortable and seemed to get warmer the longer he sat.

He sighed in deep contentment.

Theo didn't like to say, but sometimes the scars on his back hurt. Not much, but when it was cold some of the deeper ones itched a little, like they were still trying to burrow deeper into him but didn't know how. It got worse in the cold of the dungeons but as it wasn't likely Dumbledore would move them out just because his back hurt, Theo saw no use in complaining.

But this sofa was doing wonders for him. "Mmm," he sighed. "I guess there are benefits to this room after all."

He stared at the ceiling. It was a lovely magenta and cobalt blue mix, his favourite colours. Once Theo was relaxed, he noticed the soft violin music playing in the background, just loud enough to heard without being too distracting.

"Ok Room, I'll admit it," he said to the wall in front of him, "This is pretty close to relaxing. Not what I expected, but well done." He shifted, getting more comfortable, reached to his bag for a book and tried to force himself to experience a few minutes of peace.

Theo tried. Really, he tried.

He focused on the music, focused on the words of his book, but the terrified feeling did not go. It was still too quiet. He rubbed his chest.

There were so many things he wanted to say, but didn't know how to. Things he thought only for a brief second before they dissolved shyly back into his subconscious.

It was driving him mad.

"What am I going to do and how am I going to do it?" he murmured gloomily. His task, the one Voldemort wanted of him, it was too big. Sometimes Theo felt it might swallow him whole before even the other Death Eaters got a chance.

His chest panged. He still felt lonely.

Sitting up, Theo sighed. "Should've known," he muttered. "What the hell would I know about peace?"

He picked up his bag and made to leave.

But something caught his eyes.

The blank blackboard on the south wall, the one without a tapestry, it wasn't blank anymore.

Now there were white chalky words scrawled across it. Even though there was no chalk nearby.

"That definitely wasn't there before," Theo said, leaving no room for hesitation. His ability to notice things was something he took pride in.

Something prickled at the back of his head. 'I should go,' he thought. 'This isn't safe, I should…'

But then he read the words on the board. It said, in rather slanted, pretty handwriting, "One day, I'm going to see a blank slate and not write nonsensical things all over it."

Theo couldn't resist. It was just…it was…no, there was no way in hell Theo could resist an opportunity like this.

Before he could even think, he walked over to the bored, picked up a piece of chalk that had materialised nearby and scrawled, 'Perhaps…but evidently, today is not that day.'

Immediately after writing this, Theo sighed, running his fingers through his hair. 'What did I just do!' Hadn't Riddle's blasted diary taught him anything!?

As Theo inwardly debated his stupidity, more words began to appear under his scrawl, like a sponge in reverse. Once again the handwriting was impeccably neat and unusually slanted. "I take it Divination is your preferred subject Mr. Wall?"

Theo stared at those words, his hands twitched. "I will not respond," he told himself.

More words appeared. "Mr. Wall?"

Nope. There was no resisting that. He picked up the chalk and wrote, "I am not a wall, I am a magical blackboard. And will you please stop writing nonsensical things all over me. It makes me want to sneeze."

There was no response for a while, till finally, "Desdemona! If this is you playing another prank, I'm going to turn your head into a trumpet this time instead!"

Theo felt his knees go weak. He covered his mouth and attempted to hold back the laugher that shook his shoulders.

Once he'd gained control of himself, he wrote, " I am not a Desdemona, I am a blackboard. And it appears that you are still writing nonsensical things all over me. You must not be in Ravenclaw because you're not very clever. Either write something that makes sense, or stop wasting space."

As he finished writing this, Theo felt himself lose to the laugher. He leaned into his knees against the wall, chuckling quietly.

Merlin, when was the last time he'd teased anyone like this?

He couldn't remember. It wasn't something he did often, but…

Mr. Wall?

Who could resist that?

Hearing the sound of chalk, Theo took in a deep breath and looked up.

He'd expected outrage, maybe another funny remark, instead the words he read made him pause.

"I'm sorry," it read. "Don't be mad. I've had a terrible day and… I didn't mean to waste your time…I guess today's not my day for doing anything right. I just wanted a place to clear my head, somewhere to make me feel better."

'Well damn,' Theo thought.

His heart thudded. He eyed the chalk lying innocently on a side table. It seemed to whisper at him 'Well, you asked for me didn't you? What are you waiting for?'

"To wake up I suppose," he answered vocally.

This was madness. He had no business writing to something whose magical responses were unidentifiable. What if this was another Horcrux?

But then…didn't he then have an obligation to find out if it was one? What better way to do that than to…continue writing?

He looked at the words again. 'A place to clear your head, huh?' he thought. If this person was feeling anything like him…then he felt a little bad for teasing.

Picking up the chalk, he wrote, "I'm sorry too. I'm not a blackboard; just a regular jerk who saw and stole an opportunity to have a laugh at your expense."

He put down his arm and took in a deep breath. But before he could step away, the words returned, "Well…I know a thing or two about being a jerk and they don't apologise. So you're forgiven.'

Theo looked at those words, that simple 'You're forgiven' and felt his heart warm a little. He glanced at the chalk and shrugged.

'Fuck it.'

'Much obliged,' he wrote, and on deeper consideration, added a customary: "Hope your head feels clearer soon."

The words returned in half a second, "I'm going to need a vanishing spell with the Elder Wand to clear my head after today's screw-up."

'I'm guessing this is the part where I ask what happened?'

It took a little longer before Theo got a reply, but when it came, he nearly dropped the chalk. "Can I please tell you about it?"

It was such a sweet, innocent request. Theo could practically hear the tiny, kitten mewl of a voice that might make it. He sighed, 'Go ahead' he wrote, 'I'm a blackboard, it's not like I have anything better to do."

"Much obliged," it responded, then after a long while the words appeared, "…it's my brother. I just found out he's not in love with the person I thought it was…and perhaps I don't know him as well as I thought I did…"

Theo paused for a moment before responding, waiting for more. "Sounds like there's more to this story?"

Suddenly the words came in such quick succession, Theo had to step back a bit as he read lest he miss a bit.

"A lot more: I recently found out my brother's had this crush on someone since we were practically seven years old and I was so sure it was this older girl we both know…so I tried to set them up. I ended up asking someone we know for help getting them together and well… when my brother found out that I'd told Sycamore he was in love with the girl we know, Pio was so angry. He said I've ruined everything. And Sycamore, he's usually so cheerful but when he heard Pio was in love with someone…I've never seen him so sad."

Theo read the last sentence, the cogs in his mind whirring. Then he wrote, "Does it bother you to find out your brother's in love with your male acquaintance?"

"No," came the quick answer, but nothing more.

Theo waited, and then he wrote, "Do you think your brother's disgusting now?"

"NO!" the response came back again. "Of course not! I love Pio. He's not just my brother, he's my best friend. I love him more than I love myself. Nothing and I mean nothing will ever change that. I'm just…surprised."

"Then what's the problem?"

"It's…I never saw it coming. I thought I knew everything about Pio, like I thought he hated Sycamore. He was always glaring at him and he never wanted to hang out when Sy babysat us as children. Plus, Pio never gets mad at me. He just goes along with whatever I want; but today he was so angry he shouted so hard his magic burst a window! And I don't get angry at him often either, but when I do, I tend to lecture."

There was a long pause with no words after that, prompting Theo to write, "Go on."

"I think, while I was being all holier-than-thou, I said something irreparably cruel by accident. Something I can't take back…what should I do?"

Theo paused. This disembodied mewl was asking for his advice? Theo couldn't even fix his own life and he was supposed to know how to fix theirs?

He wanted to huff. But something in their declaration of love for their brother echoed in Theo. 'I love him more than I love myself.'

'I know that feeling,' he couldn't help but think. 'Ok…what advice would I want to hear myself?'

He wrote, "Apologise. Find your brother and tell him everything you told me. Tell him…that no matter what, you'll always be on his side, even if no one else will. Best not approach this Sycamore though, at least not until you know all the facts about your brother and his relationship. Don't ruin anything else."

Theo put down his chalk and waited. No reply. He scratched the back of his neck and reread his advice. It seemed alright, but what did he know?

"This is why I stay quiet all the time," he muttered.

Finally, words began to etch themselves on the board. He waited till they were all there before reading.

"I should have written all over you thirty minutes ago, Mr. Blackboard. It would have saved me a lot of trouble. Thank you."

Theo raised his hand to reply, then stopped. Then he tried again, and stopped again. Damn. He had no reply. His heart was skipping slightly.

Did he really manage to help the mewl? Wow…

"Hm" he ended up writing.

No reply.

Great. He just had to go and ruined it.

The reply came back late, "Urh. Don't say that, it remind me of someone else I know. No. This is actually the part where you say 'no problem'."

The corner of Theo's lips trembled again. "No problem" he wrote, rolling his eyes. Bossy little mewl, wasn't it?

The return message made him smirk. "Try again, with less sarcasm. Try not to roll your eyes this time."

How did she know?

So he wrote, " M."

With that Theo realised he had finally reached the bottom of the backboard. There was barely a whisper of space left. He looked at the chalk. Was there any point in writing more?

He put the chalk down and grabbing his bag, made for the door before he was tempted to continue. As he was opening it though, he heard the sound of chalk on blackboard again.

Risking a glance back, his smirk turned into a grin.

" R," was the reply in tiny writing, squeezed into the last space at the bottom of the board.

Then the board and the chalk disappeared. Just like that.

Theo let out another laugh and left the room, not even realising he'd actually spend a whole twenty minutes feeling light, happy and without the burden of his task weighing on his mind.

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

On the morning of the Quidditch match against Hufflepuff, Harry dropped in the hospital wing before heading down to the pitch. Ron was very agitated; Madam Pomfrey would not let him go down to watch the match, feeling it would overexcite him.

"So how's McLaggen shaping up?" he asked Harry nervously, apparently forgetting that he had already asked the same question twice.

"I've told you," said Harry patiently. "He could be world-class and I wouldn't want to keep him. He keeps trying to tell everyone what to do, he thinks he could play every position better than the rest of us. I can't wait to be short of him. And speaking of getting short of people," Harry added, getting to his feet and picking up his Firebolt. "Will you stop pretending to be asleep when Lavender comes to see you? She's driving me mad as well now."

"Oh," said Ron, suddenly going quiet. "Yeah. Alright."

"If you don't want to go out with her anymore, just tell her," huffed Harry.

"Yeah... ok," said Ron, looking at his hands. Harry paused. Ron was being unusually compliant.

"Are you…ok?" he asked.

"Hey Harry," Ron said, suddenly looking up. "Have I ever…you know, done anything to hurt you?"

Harry blinked, unsure how Ron wanted him to answer the question. He didn't want to get dragged into this fight, he really didn't.

"Wait," Ron suddenly said. "Let me ask something different…do you think…Hermione's right, that I manipulated her and Lavender's feelings?"

Harry considered lying, he wasn't in a mood for a fight right now. But looking at Ron he realised something seemed different. Ron seemed…somewhat thoughtful.

"Yeah," he ended up admitting.

Ron nodded. "I thought so…damn. I've messed up, haven't I? How's Hermione?"

"Huh?"

"Is she still pissed?"

"Well…yeah. She really doesn't like you like that Ron, and trying to make her jealous was a pretty pissy thing to do to a friend."

"Yeah, I can kinda see that now."

"You can?" Harry's eyes widened. "Uh…really?"

"Yeah," Ron sighed. "I guess, I was so concerned with what I was feeling for her, I didn't really stop to consider if maybe I was…too late, if maybe she didn't take my jokes in quite such a…jokey way."

"That's…wow." Harry was witnessing a miracle here. A bleeding miracle. "Well, ok."

"What do you think I should do?" Ron asked. "About Hermione…and Lavender."

"I reckon you should apologise to Lavender first. That way you can clear the water with her and Hermione will be less likely to send murderous canaries after your head the second she sees you if she finds out you actually apologised first."

"Yeah, good idea," Ron nodded.

Harry fidgeted, Ron picked at the lint on his duvet.

"Ok," Ron said after a while, looking rather glum. "Right. Well, good luck. Hope you hammer McLag-I mean Smith."

"I'll try," said Harry, shouldering his broom. "See you after the match."

Harry left the room that day thinking, 'Well…that happened.'

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

"And that's Smith of Hufflepuff with the Quaffle," said a dreamy voice, echoing over the grounds. "He did the commentary last time, of course, and Ginny Weasley flew into him, I think probably on purpose-it looked like it. Smith was being quite rude about Gryffindor, I expect he regrets that now he's playing them-oh, look, he's lost the Quaffle, Ginny took it from him, I do like her, she's very nice..."

As Theo sat in the Slytherin Quidditch stands, rigid as a wooden doll, one thought went through his mind.

BEST. MATCH. EVER.

"... but now that big Hufflepuff player's got the Quaffle from her, I can't remember his name, it's something like Bibble-no, Buggins -"

"It's Cadwallader!" said Professor McGonagall loudly from beside Luna. The crowd laughed.

Theo meanwhile was bent over, looking as if he were taking a nap on his lap and allowing a curtain of pitch black hair to cover his face. He sniggered so hard that had it not been hidden behind his hair, he would have permanently ruined his reputation for being expressionless forever.

He was go glad he'd thought to go in the Room of Requirement last night. He'd almost not come today.

Truth be told, though Theo had been initially thrilled to learn Luna was commentating, a part of him had been sad. Because he honestly wasn't ready to accept that he had no feelings for her yet. He and Luna were so alike, Theo so badly wanted to be in love with her and hated that he wasn't.

But after talking to that Miss Nonsensical-Writing yesterday (he was assuming it was a she) he felt strangely lighter. Hearing how much they loved their brother made Theo remember why he had even wanted to like Luna so much, it was because he wanted to be treasured. Like how Hermione and Pansy treasured his friends.

So in the end, the most important thing was that if Luna didn't treasure him that way, it didn't matter whether Theo liked her or not. What he wanted wasn't Luna's love in particular, just someone's or anyone's.

She was right. They both deserved more than that.

And now he was able to sit here in the stands, look up at that pale blonde hair and listen to that airy voice with nothing but fondness in his heart.

He couldn't wait till the match was over so he could tell her he was comfortable with being friends again.

Though at the same time, he never wanted the match to end. In the span of five minutes Luna had noted to the Hogwarts crowd the shape of three funny clouds; how Zacharias Smith, a chaser who'd failed to maintain the Quaffle for longer than a few seconds, was suffering from "Looser's Lurgey" and had forgotten the names of at least three other players. In all of this, not once had she even thought to mention the actual score of the game, causing a very frustrated McGonagall to scream out: "Seventy-forty to Hufflepuff!" into Luna's megaphone.

"Is it, already?" said Luna vaguely. "Oh, look! The Gryffindor Keeper's got hold of one of the Beater's bats."

Sure enough, that idiot McLaggen who'd been sniffing after Granger before (Theo only knew the blaggart's name because Draco had spent evenings cursing in their room how 'Fucking McLaggen needed to glue his eyes to a cactus and not his girlfriend') was now waving about one of his own teammate's beater bats.

Meanwhile Potter looked like he was having aneurism while trying to summon the apocalypse with his anger at the same time. "Will you give him back his bat and get back to the goalposts!" he roared, zooming towards the fiasco just as the moron took a swipe at a stray bludger.

A swipe that sent the flying cannonball straight into Potter's head.

There was a sickening crack that had even Theo flinching as Potter took it head on and was knocked clear off his broom. The Referee was in the field in an instant to catch him but somewhere in the stand someone screamed and the crowd went silent. Then he heard the unmistakeable wail of "HARRY!" coming from the stands where Granger sat with the little blonde Slytherin girl who'd had Draco running around last term because of Potter

Several people ran out onto the pitch with Madam Pomfrey to intercept Potter: the whole Gryffindor team, Granger, the Slytherin girl and Snape.

They were checking for permanent damage. Theo scratched his head, not really that bothered.

What did he care what happened to Potter? His friends were his only concern. Sure Potter was friends with Hermione, but that didn't create enough of a relationship between him and the spectacled boy to care about his injury.

So when Potter was taken off the pitch Theo sat back and waited to hear more of Luna's commentary.

Except it never came.

He looked up at the box where McGonagall was whispering to a very still Luna, trying to get her to continue. To anyone else, Luna had a perfectly serene expression: airy, vacant and not any different from her usual expression, as if she were just deep in thought.

But Theo wasn't 'anyone else'. He knew Luna and when he saw her, he saw all the tiny, almost non-existent signs in her body language.

Luna was in horrified shock.

Seeing such a deep expression on his usually vacant friend shook Theo.

'No…way…' he thought as she regained her composure and resumed the game. "No way!"

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

Theo wasn't sure if he'd even seen it correctly. Maybe this was the one time he had actually misinterpreted something.

Still…he wanted to be sure.

So after the match was over, he went straight to the hospital wing and stationed himself on a staircase that gave an excellent view of the comings and goings into the room without standing out.

Several people came and went: mainly Granger, the girl Weasley and the Slytherin Second year. Just when Theo had begun to convince himself that he was wrong, she showed up.

Luna walked up to the hospital wing and stood outside it. Once again her face had its usual serene I'm-not-sure-if-I'm-on-the-right-planet quality, but her movements were a bit more jerked than usual. And she wasn't going inside.

She just stood outside those doors to the hospital wing, her arms rigidly by her side, staring at the golden knobs. Theo watched silently, waiting to see a proper reaction.

Then she reached out a hand for a knob, a hand that revealed a very telling tremble.

That tremble was all Theo needed to see to know he'd been right.

Luna's hand hovered above the door for a few more moments; Theo heard her take in a shaky breath and clench her fingers.

But before she could do more, the door opened to reveal Ginny Weasley, bustling through like her usual hurricane self.

"Oh," she said. "Hey Luna, come to see Harry?" she asked.

"Hello Ginny," Luna replied, that shake in her voice gone. In an instant she was back to looking half in fairyland, not even a trace of how conflicted she'd been a second ago. Theo felt his heart drop. 'Oh Luna…'

"You can go in if you want," Weaslette said, stepping aside with a bright smile.

Luna shook her head, her silvery blond tresses shaking around her head. "No, I just wanted to know if he's alright…is he alright? It sounded like quite a…loud crack."

"Yeah, Madam Pomfrey says he'll be in the wing for a bit, suppose he'll keep Ron company. They're in there with Hermione and that Slytherin girl." Then Weaslette's face twisted.

Luna giggled in her usual adorable way, putting a hand on Ginny's shoulder, "Don't worry. He doesn't like her like that."

"But…" Weaslette said quietly. "They're so close."

Luna smiled serenely. "Harry truly treasures Miss Alexander, but it's not as a woman. You don't have to worry about their relationship. But I wouldn't get in their way if I were you, he needs this."

"Yeah," Weaslette nodded. "I guessed as much. You should've seen how she just rushed into Harry's cubicle. I didn't even know that was possible since there should have been a family-only line around his bed to keep people away while Pomfrey was getting things together."

Luna shrugged. "He does see her as family."

"I don't think it works that way…" Weaslette began, but ended up shrugging it off. "Anyway, why don't you go in, I'm sure he wouldn't mind seeing you."

Luna smiled again. Probably to Weaslette, it was a very normal smile.

But to Theo, it looked bittersweet, a little sad and very accepting.

"No," Luna said. "Harry won't want me there. He's very kind to me, but we're not that close. He thinks I'm loony, remember?"

"You're not loony," Weaslette frowned. "Didn't I tell you to stop calling yourself that? Has anyone else been keeping it up, those Ravenclaws? Want me to hex them for you?"

Theo blinked. He hadn't expected the Weaslette to be so concerned over Luna; could it be she actually thought of the blonde as a friend instead of just a lark like everyone else?

From Luna's indulgent, happy smile Theo realised the answer was 'Yes'.

"No need for that," Luna said sweetly. "Just give Harry my kind regards, tell him to watch out for Hogsquealers and Nargles, they're particularly fond of vulnerable prey."

Ginny grinned. "I'll let him know," and she slipped back into the room.

Luna stood there, quietly for some time. Then she turned around and walked away.

Theo followed her, waiting till they were alone. Then he grabbed her shoulders to halt her. "Luna," he called.

Luna stiffened, her hands twitching on her wand, but realising who it was her face returned to a sweet smile. "Hello Theodore," she said. "It's been quite some time, hasn't it? How have you been?"

There was not a trace of how sad and heartbroken she'd looked before in her dreamy eyes.

Damn.

Luna really was too much like him. She was a master at keeping her emotions behind a mask of indifference.

But she couldn't fool him.

Harry Potter was her match. And she was giving him up because he was in love with Ginny Weasley, her first real friend.

Theo raised one hand and put it on her shoulder. "You're such a loon," he said softly.

Understanding what he meant, Luna let her expression slip just a bit. "I know."

After that, neither of them said a word more. Theo walked her to Ravenclaw tower and before she entered, he kissed her forehead platonically and glared ferociously at a few curious Ravenclaws who'd stuck their heads out, daring them to bother her today.

Luna smiled greatly and touched his cheek. There had been a 'thank you' in that tiny gesture that didn't need to be said.

When she was gone, that's when Theo let his anger creep in. his hands gripped into tight fists and he had to take a deep breath before he turned and walked back down the hall to the Slytherin dormitories.

He was pissed off.

In a way he understood why she did it and had it been anyone else, he might have perhaps admired her for her restrained and sacrifice.

But it was one of Theo's fundamental flaws that, in his eyes, his friends could often do no wrong. So to him, Luna's happiness meant far more than Ginny Weasley's.

That she wasn't getting that happiness pissed him off.

'It's what she wants,' he reasoned. 'You know that barging into the hospital wing to demand Potter to love her will only make her hate you.'

Theo didn't want that.

But…maybe a love potion…

No. if anyone would be able to trace it back to him, it'd be Luna.

'So what,' he thought, storming down the corridors with purposeful stride and a blank face that made him seem like a kabuki mask monster. 'I've got to just…leave it be?'

How as he supposed to that? Theo was a self-confessed busybody; he couldn't not get involved with matters that involved his friend's happiness.

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

A few days and several vile healing potions later, Harry and Ron were finally given the all-clear to leave the hospital wing.

Harry had bolted out immediately, probably on Malfoy's tail, Ron decided. Despite Hermione's many pleadings, Harry was completely obsessed with proving Malfoy was behind the disappearing students.

Ron meanwhile hadn't gone with him; he'd bigger fish to try.

Though, now that he was in position, he was hesitating big time.

"Maybe this isn't such a god idea after all?" Ron thought as he peered out slightly from behind a pillar.

Hermione was reading in the Ravenclaw courtyard, something she did often apparently. Ron hadn't known, he'd always thought Hermione just went to the library when she wasn't with him and Harry. Shows how much he knows.

She looked harmless enough. She was completely engrossed in a book and it didn't seem like she'd noticed him yet. But Ron knew better than anyone else how nasty Hermione could be when she was truly angry with someone. He still had scars from one time she sent a flock of vapid, yellow canaries at him. Just thinking about it made him shudder.

"This is mad," he muttered.

"I'll say," Hermione muttered suddenly, making Ron jump. "Has anyone ever told you that you breathe very loudly when you're trying to be secretive? What is it Ronald?"

Uh oh. She was still calling him Ronald, that wasn't a good sign.

Ron felt his body stiffen. At least 70% of him wanted to make a mad dash for it. Deep, revealing and apologetic conversations were quite literally one of his worst nightmares. Perhaps if he waited long enough Hermione would forget she was angry with him and find him? After all, she always did.

But that irritating Slytherin—Livia's words from that day in the hospital wing still resounded in his head. For some reason Ron hadn't been able to forget anything of what she had said. Maybe it was because she had said it so matter-of-factly, like she didn't have to prove a point because she had faith he'd understand straight away.

"If you don't consider how you affect their feelings, then can you even call what you have friendship?"

Ron inwardly shrivelled up a bit more when he thought about her big sad eyes; eyes that had been sad for him.

It pissed him off really. What right did she have to be sorry for him?

He'd prove it to her and himself he could sort this out.

Taking a big breath, Ron took a step out from behind the pillar and waved awkwardly, "Hi. Can I sit down?"

Hermione raised an eyebrow. "That depends," she said. "Are you going to say something stupid and hurtful?"

Ron flinched. "Not this time if I can help it."

Hermione raised both eyebrows in surprise. Then she shuffled along her bench to give him space. Ron sat down.

They sat in a strange silence for a moment or two; Hermione flipping the pages of her book and Ron drumming his fingers on his lap.

When it seemed obvious Hermione was not going to be the first to break the silence, Ron took in another breath and said, "I'm sorry, Hermione…you were right."

The expression of shock that slapped itself onto Hermione's face made those words worth it alone. She looked absolutely flabbergasted, opening and closing her moth to form words.

"C-come again?" she eventually forced out.

"I said…you were right. I was using Lavender's feelings to get to you, and I was wrong. I've already apologised to her and explained that, though she is a nice girl, I don't have feelings for her like what she wants from me and that I'm sorry. She slapped me and then said it was ok. Now I guess it's your turn." He turned his other cheek to Hermione and clenched.

Hermione blinked and shook her head. "I'm not going to slap you, Ron, as long as you understand what you did…but that doesn't mean anything changes between us."

He frowned sadly. "Doesn't it? Can't we at least be friends again?"

"Not if you still expect us to get together someday," she said.

He sighed, even sadder. "No, I get it now. You…I messed up." He leaned forward till he was resting his elbows on his knees. "When we were younger, you always seemed to lecture me, like mum did. At first I hated it, but later I started getting used to it and even expecting it. I thought you knew me better than I knew myself and I guess I started to think that since you were like mum, we'd just…end up together."

"I'm nothing like your mum, Ron," Hermione said. "And I wasn't lecturing you because I liked to."

Ron didn't say anything; he just nodded, indicating he understood.

At his silence, Hermione awkwardly scratched the back of her hand and coughed. "What…what did you mean by you messing up?"

"Every time we fought, in the past," Ron answered. "I honestly thought you didn't take it that seriously. You forgave me quickly and we always found a way through things, so I didn't think much about it. But…when I do think about it, I don't know how it's possible for you to be alright with some of the things I've said to you. And I don't even know why I say it sometimes; that you're boring and annoying and that your studying habits are weird. I don't think that, not really. Hell. Your studying has gotten me out of so many scrapes. But…I guess it also made me feel…less than a man."

"So you wanted to make me feel 'less'," Hermione frowned.

He nodded miserably. "How the hell can I expect you to like me when I've been like that?" Ron asked rhetorically. "I always sort of knew you didn't feel the same…I just found it easier not to admit it. I'm sorry."

She was quiet for a time, then, "Do you want to know the moment I stopped loving you romantically?"

Ron wasn't sure he did, but he nodded anyway.

"It was third year. We were celebrating winning Quidditch against the Slytherins and you said something horrible about my cat. I ran away crying and by morning I knew…that loving you would mean feeling the way I did when you said those things every day. I know that as much as I loved you, I wasn't the person who could make you be someone who was capable of loving someone else properly."

"What do you mean?"

"It's like you said, all those years lecturing you and once, even once, did you realise how you were making me feel?"

Ron looked even more miserable as he shook his head. "I really messed up, didn't I? I'm really sorry, Hermione."

Hermione shrugged. "We weren't a good match. That's all. I accepted it. Can you?

"…Yes."

"So…what happens now?" Hermione asked.

"I dunno," Ron shrugged. "I still like you a lot. I can't honestly promise I won't mess up again and say something nasty, or promise I won't screw up and do something that'll piss you off since that's the kind of person I am. But I won't keep chasing after you anymore."

"Honestly?" Hermione asked.

Ron fidgeted. "Yeah. Honestly, Hermione, when I really think about it, and recently …I have been thinking about it," he looked at her. "I don't want to lose you. You're my friend before you're the girl I fancy, and I hate the idea that I've really hurt you. It doesn't sit well with me. I can't change who I am, I'm not that complicated and I don't even know how…but I still want to be friends."

As he finished his piece, Ron gripped his knees tightly, feeling sick to his stomach with nerves. Was this how Hermione had always felt apologising to him?

Merlin.

Then suddenly, Ron felt arms go around him in an awkward hug. He opened his eyes and tried to turn his head but Hermione wasn't letting go.

She nodded into his shoulder. "Thank you for apologising, Ron" she said. "Not just for Lavender, but for everything else."

She pulled away and he saw she was smiling. Then she held out her hand. "Hello, I'm Hermione Granger, do you want to be my friend?"

Ron felt his ears go red, but this time from happiness and he tried to hide his grin as he shook her hand. "Hello, I'm Ron Weasley."

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

After that they talked a while more and Hermione excused herself to go to one of her advanced classes.

But she didn't go. Instead she walked, almost in a daze, down a random hallway.

She couldn't get over how honest Ron had been. How he had come and just blurted out his feelings like it was nothing?

Ron.

Someone with the emotional range of a teaspoon.

The irony was, before Ron had come, Hermione had been thinking about her situation with Draco and how afraid she still was; how angry with herself she was for loving him and hating him at the same time and how miserable she felt having to keep her fears from Draco a secret.

And then Ron, of all people, had come and been so honest to her. Hermione felt like laughing. Even more so when talking with Ron had reminded her of the first time she'd unconsciously realised Draco was a man, as he held her after her fight with Ron. He'd been so strong, so dependable, she'd unconsciously let herself go with him and cried.

After a few minutes of walking, Hermione realised she had begun running and that she was running to the girls' toilets.

She slammed the door open to find Draco, having a quiet talk with Moaning Myrtle, as he often did when the vanishing cabinet wasn't going well. He said talking with her calmed him and reminded him why he was fighting so hard to be different from his 'other self'; so no more girls would have to die like Myrtle.

He was a good man. She didn't want to forget that.

Ever.

XX-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-OoO-xx-XX-xx-XX-xx-XX

Draco looked up, eyes wide with shock at Hermione who was panting heavily from her run with her hair frizzy and a bit of a wild look in her eye.

"Hermione?" he said, frowning. "What's wrong, did you run he—"

Before he could finish his sentence, she grabbed his arm and started pulling him out of the bathroom.

"Hermione!" Draco exclaimed. "Wait! Tell me what—Bye, Myrtle—tell me what's wrong, where are we going?"

"I don't know!" Hermione said. "I just…I need to talk with you, right now." She turned her head to him with a desperate expression, "Please."

Seeing the look in her eyes, Draco's confusion disappeared; he nodded and began pulling her along instead. They found an equipment closet and quickly went inside, sealing the door and muffling the sound as they did, so they'd have privacy.

When Draco had cast the last spell he turned to Hermione. She was standing in the centre of the tiny room, her arms limp by her side and her head down, her hair falling in a frizzy curtain.

Then Hermione started shivering.

"Hermione?" Draco's voice made her flinch. She seemed to feel his hand reach out to her before she even saw it as she took a step back, shaking her head.

Draco stalled and stood still. He frowned, heart pounding. "Hermione, love, what's wrong?"

Draco watched her for a few minutes more, standing silently.

Then she spoke, "I'm not ok."

He blinked; her voice was so quiet, like a baby's whine. "Pardon?"

"I'm not ok, Draco."

She looked so fragile, so delicate. Draco instantly wanted to hold her but was afraid to in case he broke something. "Hermione…"

"I told you I wasn't bothered by what he did to me during New Years," she choked tearfully. "That I understood it wasn't your fault, and I did, but that was only because 'he' wasn't you. But now you're telling me that he'll become a part of you? I can't face it." Her hands shook. "I was scared of him then and I'm still scared of him. I don't want you two to fuse, I don't…I don't want even a bit of him to change you. I love you but…what if he ruins you?!"

Tears were streaming down her cheeks and dripping onto the stone slabs, she raised her hand to try and hide her eyes. "I'm sorry," she wept. "I'm so sorry. I'm sorry I'm weak, I'm sorry I lied. You hid so much from me because you were scared I couldn't handle it, so I promised you I could. But I'm weaker than I thought I was, Draco, and I'm so, so sorry!"

Draco's heart broke for her. "Oh Hermione," he said and not caring if he broke something or not took three strong stride forwards to embrace her.

She wriggled, trying to get out, but he was stronger than her and held firm, pulling her to his chest. Soon she gave up and just sobbed into his robes.

"Oh Hermione," Draco crooned, holding her tighter. "I'm the one who is sorry. For making you feel like you had to be so strong all by yourself, I'm so sorry."

"Don't apologise!" she snapped. "This isn't your fault, it's mine. I'm weak. You need me to be strong, to accept what is going on with you and 'him' and be your strength, but I'm not…I…" her shaking intensified, so much so that she had to clutch his robes to keep still. "I'm scared. I'm terrified."

"I know," he stroked her hair. "I know."

"I'm so pathetic."

"Then that would make me even more pathetic," he answered. "For not realising how afraid he made you. I'm so sorry, my Hermione."

She pushed against him gently, he let her. "You're not…angry?" she asked with a disbelieving face.

"Of course not," he said gently with a downcast sigh. "Hermione, I don't expect you to be perfect and strong." He stroked her hair with harder strokes to try and calm her trembling; each time his heart broke a little more for her. "You've been through so much for me, taken on so much and accepted so much. Of course your tolerance level would be reached someday, so why would I be angry?"

Hermione sniffed and hid her face in her hair. "Because I'm scared I won't love you anymore if you're more like him," she answered quietly.

'Ouch.' Draco flinched a little at that one, unable to hide his hurt.

Hermione felt his flinch and tried once more to struggle out of his embrace. But Draco held on tighter, pulling them to the floor to keep better grip. He pulled her into his lap and began rocking, trying to calm her.

"I'm sorry," he crooned again. "I'm sorry." Sorry for startling her, sorry for how afraid she was, sorry that she had to go through this fear alone, sorry for the fact that he was the cause of her fear and sorry that there was nothing he could do to stop it. Like it or not, fusion was his only chance. He couldn't put her fears at ease or promise not to go through with it. So all he could do was say, "I'm so sorry."

"Draco—" she whispered.

"Do you still love me now?" he asked.

"Yes," she nodded immediately. "I'm afraid, but I still love you. I'm just…scared."

"Me too," he said. "I'm scared too. I'm scared that I'll change, that either I'll go back to that spineless prat he was when he was a child who hated you, or that my love will become like his older self; obsessive and cruel."

She flinched again in his arms. His poor Hermione.

Draco felt awful. How long had she been holding all this inside of her; with no one to tell and no one to discuss it with?

He couldn't imagine her feeling comfortable telling any of their friends these feelings since they were all mostly his friends. How alone she must have felt.

And yet, she'd still come to him. She'd told him the truth she knew he wouldn't be happy to hear.

She could have hidden it, lied to make him feel better as he had done. Instead, she'd come and told him everything in her heart and allowed him to judge her.

Even with all that fear, she was unconsciously still trying to make them work.

Was he angry? Hurt, maybe. But angry?

Hermione might think herself weak, but Draco was in awe of her courage.

"I can't promise anything," he said softly. "Except that I will try to make it so I don't change too much."

"I love you, Draco," Hermione said. "I don't want to lose you in him."

"Believe it or not, his love for you isn't all bad. He has some honest parts to him too, parts that I envy. Snape is helping me realise that it's not as bad as I thought. We can make this work."

"Can we?" she asked, her eyes unsure.

"I'll make it work," he said firmly, kissing her lips gently. "Because I can't let you go, Hermione. I might be losing a part of myself forever to him, but I'll be damned if I lose you to your fear of him too."

At his words her eyes teared up and her whole body relaxed. Draco realised how tired she must have been. All this time, she'd been the one fighting to keep them together, catering to his moods and putting her own fears aside. But knowing he was going to fight for them too…she looked calmer.

She reached up and hooked her arms around his neck, pressing her forehead to his. "Then hold me tight, Draco, so tight I can't feel the fear and all I can see is the 'Draco' in front of me. The Draco who sat with me in first year and the Draco I want to spend the rest of my life with."

His heart trembled.

Draco threaded his arms around Hermione's waist and pulled her even tighter to him. Then he angled his face so their lips met again.

Their kiss was hesitant on her part at first, but at his encouragement it became deeper and soon her hands were furiously tugging on his hair to pull them closer.

An intense heat coursed through them then. Even though they were in a tiny equipment closet with shelves and spare cauldrons as witnesses, neither could really think beyond the thought that they both needed to feel each other, to block out the fear.

Draco felt Hermione straddle him harder and he started kissing the collar of her neck, all the while looking deep into her eyes. She pulled open her shirt to give him better access, then gasped as his fingers dipped under her skirt and found her clit. When she didn't stop or pull away, he began to massage her in the way he knew she liked.

They hadn't had sex at all since that New Year's Day. Hermione had always been reluctant and Draco hadn't wanted to push her.

Yet they remembered the way their bodies fit and with some manoeuvring, Draco freed himself and Hermione lowered herself onto him. They gasped at the feeling of their skin coming together; the feeling of each other's heat in the most intimate of ways. As Hermione shuddered on top of him, trying to adjust herself and reacclimatise to the unfamiliar feeling of him inside of her after so long, Draco took her face in her hands and made her look at him.

Then he grinned. "You have way too many freckles, your nose is off centre and you have the most unattractive habit of looking like a burning cauldron when you're about to cum," he grinned.

At first Hermione looked hurt, but then she seemed to understand that he was trying to assure her this was him, and not the other 'Draco' who couldn't see any of her flaws. Here, it was just the Draco she knew.

Hermione kissed him deeply, surprising Draco since she really like deep tongue kissing. When she pulled away, she had a grin of her own and a renewed glint in her eye. "At least I don't grunt like a bear in mating season. And for the record, your nose is just as off centre as mine; my handy work, I think. And your eyes are a bit too close together," she added slyly.

"No, they're not," he frowned. "I'll have you know—"

"Draco," Hermione interrupted in a fluttery (and rather sexy in his opinion) voice.

"Yes?"

"Shut up and move."

Quickly, Draco remembered to mutter an anti-conception spell as Hermione started to thrust up and down onto him.

This wasn't about being slow or loving, this was about exorcizing all their doubts.

They moved together with an intensity that they hadn't known before, all the while looking directly into one another's eyes, as if to anchor them in reality.

Whenever they kissed, it was in quick, closed mouth kisses, like they were reintroducing themselves.

And when they finally climaxed, Draco held onto Hermione so tight that the only thing she could see was the 'him' that was right in front of her.

New chapter.

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